When Ghibellina first opened on 14th Street last year, there a lot of buzz about how it was the second restaurant opened by the owners of Acqua Al 2. But who had heard of Acqua Al 2? Apparently a lot of people. I guess I've been out of the loop on what's been going on in the restaurant scene in Capitol Hill so I'm going to start visiting this neighborhood more regularly.
The original Acqua Al 2 opened in Florence in 1978. Ari Gejdenson, an ex-pat opened an American-style restaurant just steps from Acqua Al 2 and struck up a friendship with the owner of the restaurant. Eventually, Gejdenson became the chef at the Florence-based Acqua Al 2 and in 2010, he moved back to his home in Washington, DC where he partnered with Ralph Lee to open the second US version of this restaurant. The DC-based restaurant offers the same menu as the original one in Florence and brings the same true Italian dining experience.
My friends, some of which had dined here before, were very much in favor of dinner at Acqua Al 2 on a Friday night. When we arrived, it was very busy and I was pleased that they seated us so quickly. Having a reservation here is key. The restaurant is quite large with several dining rooms and a separate room for the bar. It immediately struck me as a warm Italian restaurant with its exposed brick walls, warm wooden tables, yellow painted walls, and decorative plates. The plates, of which there are more than 100, are signed by all of their celebrity customers and adorn the walls in each of the dining rooms.
We ordered a bottle of nebbiolo to start, which turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to our meals. When asked about the vegan options, they said there were many as many of the pastas could be made with vegan noodles and/or without cheese. Even the soup of the day was vegan.
I started with the Insalata di Rucola e Pera, a delicious salad of arugula with thinly sliced Bosch pears tossed in a citrus, shallot, and dijon vinaigrette. I loved this salad. Just be sure to hold the parmesan.
My friend got the Insalata di Finocchio, which had shaved fennel with pine nuts and radicchio tossed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Hold the parmesan on this salad too. I didn't try this salad, but it looked very good.
Chris ordered the soup of the day -- a tomato and eggplant soup that was delish.
For my entree, I ordered Farfalline ai Funghi Porcini (hold the parmesan). The bowtie pasta was draped with tomato sauce and sauteed porcini mushrooms, garlic, and parsley for an elegant traditional Italian meal.
My friend ordered the Orecchiette ai Broccoli (hold the parmesan), a pasta dish smothered in a light, but very flavorful garlic pasta sauce tossed with fresh broccoli.
Overall, we had a great experience at Acqua Al 2. The service was very great, the cuisine was quite good, and the prices were reasonable. The salads and soup were $8 each and the entrees were $13-15 each. The atmosphere was warm and a bit loud. This is probably not the romantic restaurant you'll want to choose for that special occasion, but it certainly works well for a group of friends. Thanks to Acqua Al 2 for being one of the few vegan-friendly Italian restaurants in the city. Oh, and how cute are these placemats?! Gotta love them.
Acqua Al 2
212 7th Street SE
Washington, DC 20003